After reading Gravity’s Rainbow, I was told that I should consider taking a run at Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace’s massive masterwork. Having dealt with my share of tomes in the last year, I’ve kept that on my long-list of “to eventually read” books. However, Wallace wrote another shorter novel, The Broom of the System and Penguin Inks just put out a pretty copy of it… so I thought this might be a good opportunity to test the waters. I’ve heard that Jest (and that Wallace’s style in general) is unlike anything else I have ever read and so taking on something else by Wallace first would be beneficial to my eventual understanding.
Except now I’m not so sure I want to take on Jest. This is not to say or imply that The Broom of the System was bad… but I did not enjoy myself while reading it. I found the experience of reading this book to be something akin to the sensation I felt upon visiting Chicago: landlocked, a bit dull (as though someone had just muted everything a bit), and often rather boring. It was the landlocked bit that I felt most, surprisingly. That sense of being surrounded by flatness, by land… and maybe Wallace intends that, with all this talk of a man made desert in Ohio and so on. But that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable.
I will say that Wallace did have a way with words. He seemed to delight in language – and I love a book written by someone who takes pleasure in the English language. But that isn’t enough to sustain a story. Trying on different ways of telling the story – transcripts, intertextual fiction, conversations, regular narration, strange and disconcerting asides – can be entertaining for a while but after a bit it just becomes an annoyance because there was no plot. Nominally, there is – Lenore Beadsman’s grandmother has disappeared. But SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
the plot never gets resolved. It’s implied that the grandmother went into the tunnels and was causing the problems with the phones at F&V… but, I mean, “da fuck?” There are all sorts of other mindbogglingly ridiculous and strange events that really just seem like they’re stuck in because, well, they’re ridiculous and strange. That doesn’t make for an enjoyable read, it makes for a frustrating one – and seeing as this book of only 450ish pages took me two weeks to read, I as clearly frustrated.
And yet I can’t slag off the book entirely – because of that command of language. Because of how much fun Wallace is clearly having. Some of the dialogue is so much fun it could be described as rambunctious. Most of it is frustrating, even coming right on the heels of rambunctious… but there’s still that entertainment factor to be reckoned with.
Still… I’m just so pleased that the book is over. Good god.
Rating: 3 out of 5. I can’t, in good conscience, rank this anything lower – even though I was all set to give it a 2 and move on. It just strikes me that there’s so much crazy-good writing in this book that I did enjoy it, in a way. It’s just too bad there isn’t a good plot (or good characters…) to be found within leagues of the text. Also, to steal a quote from The Dream Lord: “any more taudry quirks and you could open up a taudry quirk shop!”